Review: “Seeing Red” by Sandra Brown

Seeing Red
A review by Vanessa

This book was purchased and suggested by my mother, an avid mystery reader.

Sleeping off a hangover, and staying out of the spotlight, are John Trapper’s top priorities in life when news reporter Kerra comes walking through the door of his P.I. office. But if the bombshell of information she just dropped on his desk is any indication, he won’t be achieving either of those. Kerra wants Trapper’s help to get in contact with his famous, and now reclusive, hero father so she can reveal a secret of her own to the world; a secret about the infamous Pegasus hotel bombing that happened to make Major Trapper a hero 25 years prior. But Trapper knows there is more to the bombing than anyone else thinks from his time investigating it while at the ATF. His obsession with the tragedy that shaped his father’s, and by extension his, life got him fired 3 years ago, and left him estranged from his father. But the appearance of Kerra might just be the one thing that breaks the whole mystery wide open. Kerra won’t give up until she gets an interview with the man who saved her life all those years ago. She’s prepared do what she has to. What she isn’t prepared for are her feelings for Trapper. She can see the wounds he tries to hide, and she knows together they can find the answers to the questions he has. Especially when finding those answers may be the only thing that saves her life this time.
This book is a good read and the prose itself is as flawless as it can be. The dialogue is engaging, and scenes playing out between the characters were filled with tension and interesting twists. Last minute changes in direction during the action keep the reader engaged and propel the story line forward. The love interest is scorching and not easily to be forgotten. The hero is the very definition of smoldering; your classic brooding sex-god with a difficult past that you can’t help but fall in love with and want to “save.” The heroine is no exception to this of course. On the whole Kerra stands on her own ground for most of the story; holding on to her determination, displaying her strength of character and stubbornness without shame, and generally giving the hero a run for his money.
The only mildly disappointing thing is that after meeting Trapper, each time Kerra makes a move within the story line so much of her motivation is linked directly to him. Yes, her initial determination is for herself at the beginning and that makes her an interesting catalyst for the beginning of the story line. But thereafter her personal journey takes a back seat to his. Kerra has such an interesting backstory, but her background doesn’t seem to inform her current behavior at all after it has been established. With Trapper, you can see the personal torture that comes with it every decision he makes, and it makes him a very engaging character even when he is being a jerk. But for Kerra there are so many moments throughout the book where she seems to be there more as a prop for the hero rather than as a driving factor in the plot line of the book, even though her life is literally on the line. Although she fades in later chapters she isn’t an entirely gray character, and the story as a whole keeps the dynamic between the characters, including Kerra, interesting and engaging. Good read.

4 out of 5 stars

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Review: “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware

A review by Emily

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware is a New York Times Bestseller and is soon to be adapted to the big screen by Reese Witherspoon. This novel is a mystery thriller about a 26-year-old introverted, mystery writer (though this profession doesn’t seem to make sense to assign to a character described as having little life experience and naivete) named Nora who receives an invitation to a Bachelorette party weekend of a friend she hasn’t seen in 10 years. She is puzzled by the invite and hesitant to attend but gets roped into going by another friend of hers from high school with whom she has also lost touch.

Nora has tried for the last 10 years to put and keep her ex-best friend Clare and her ex-boyfriend in the past and she struggles with moving forward with her life and having to deal with past insecurities. We don’t learn of the deep connection between she and her ex-boyfriend until half-way through the novel, which could have been introduced earlier and been developed more to make the reader care more about her lost relationship and the events that follow. We never do learn about how Nora and Clare broke off their friendship; there had been a lead up to it the entire novel as if it were a big conflict that ended their friendship, which would have explained a lot of tension between the characters but this is not explored as thoroughly as I would have liked.

Throughout the novel, a lot of the characters motivations do not seem to add up or do not seem completely authentic. One character whom could have been implicated as the guilty party, is never explored as a suspect although there could have been a large, gleaming motive for murder that is never mentioned, which could have added more mystery and suspense to the story. The main stage of the whole novel is a mysterious large glass house in the middle of the woods. The author keeps alluding to its lack of privacy and the feeling of vulnerability of staying in it but it disappointingly doesn’t play as large of a part as you would expect it to besides adding an air of creepiness to the story. The development of the character of Clare, Nora’s best friend, leaves out certain key aspects that come out late in the novel. This novel is a quick read and a suspenseful page turner. It has a lot of twists that are unexpected and some that were kind of predictable. This novel is entertaining, however, and will leave you with chills.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars

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Review: “One for the Money” (Stephanie Plum #1) by Janet Evanovich

A review by Vanessa

This book is from my own personal library; this review takes a look at the popular novel through the lens of the major motion picture it became.

Stephanie Plum is no stranger to desperation. It’s not like she hasn’t been through the ringer before, but when she loses her job as a lingerie buyer and is forced to go to work for her perverted cousin Vinnie at his bail bonds office, she knows she has hit a new low. But when a big FTA (failure to appear) hits Vinnie’s desk, Stephanie thinks things might just be looking up. The FTA is the man who took Stephanie’s virginity, Joe Morelli, and she’s got a big score to settle with him. Tracking him down and dragging his ass back to jail is the perfect opportunity to do just that, and make some big cash as a bounty hunter. Of course she has no skill-set, no training, no tools, and no cash to get what she needs to get started. Blackmailing her cousin into letting her take the case is just the first step. If she wants to make a real go of this new career, she’ll have to get serious. Enter Ranger. The guy is big and scary to the max, with attitude, gorgeous eyes, and muscles for days; but he’s the real deal, and he’s willing to mentor Stephanie so she has a chance at catching Morelli. Now all she has to do is survive telling her traditional Italian family that she’s about the take on a job where she has to start carrying a gun.
Things get crazy, hilarious, and terrifying quickly when the case surrounding Morelli’s arrest turns out to be far more complicated than Stephanie thought. Luck is on her side when she finds Morelli fast, but doesn’t have the clout to bring him in. Her only option is to follow the evidence, and the trail of criminal activity that Morrelli is tracking to try and clear his name. Maybe she can catch him unaware and force him to bring himself in. But getting more involved means getting into the line of fire of a psychotic murderer, some big time drug runners, and her crazy grandmother who is unnaturally fascinated with Stephanie’s new line of work. She has got to get Morrelli to come in before someone gets really hurt. She just hopes it isn’t her. But maybe with a whole lot of dumb luck, a little strangely accurate intuition, and the right timing, she’ll get her man in the end.
This book is the first in a long series that got its start back in the mid 90’s, and was made into a movie in 2012. For a book series that now spans multiple decades, it’s no secret why it’s still going: Evanovich is a master of character writing. She weaves the story together in sometimes interestingly haphazard ways, but always the characters that drive the action are multi-layered, unfailing entertaining, and admirably lovable or the kind you love to hate. Stephanie Plum is the perfectly inept heroine of her own story; brassy, bold, unpredictable, totally independent, and completely unprepared for everything she gets herself into. And boy, does she get herself into some crazy stuff, often with her hilarious Grandma Mazur in tow. This book made me fall in love with Stephanie and all her wacky hi-jinks, so I was of course ecstatic to learn that it was being made into a movie. But as always when a favorite novel goes Hollywood, there is bound to be some disappointment.
Overall, I have to say I was impressed with how the movie was able to modernize so many aspects of the story, without ruining the essence of what made the original story so great. Throwing cell phones, modern technology, and an update to Stephanie’s iconic fashion habits into the mix could have played out of tune with a story that was written in the 90’s, but they did a good job. What was lacking was the backbone of what made Evanovich’s writing so great; the strength of the characters. Katherine Heigl is no slouch in the acting business, and I certainly appreciated the independence, determination, and attitude that she tried to bring to the Stephanie Plum character. But there is a certain element to Stephanie, an untenable unpredictable ability to bullshit her way through almost anything, that was lacking in her movie persona. Morelli, played by Jason O,Mara, was a bit more satisfying with his passionate anger, and lust filled attitude, but even he was bit too much fiery Irish-man and not enough smooth-and-simmering Italian.
But I was most let-down by Grandma Mazur. The lovely Debbie Reynolds is a wonderful actress, and her brashness on screen was entertaining, but her liveliness was no match for the Grandma Mazur of my imagination; the one who sports spandex shorts to match Stephanie’s coolness factor and somehow pulls it off better than she does; is innocently fascinated with Stephanie’s gun right up to and including when she shoots the gumpy off the chicken at family dinner; and is fiercely loved and protected by Stephanie who feels they are kindred spirits. I still enjoyed seeing the personification of my favorite characters on screen, but I do hope one day they bring it back as a TV series, and spend a lot of time picking out the perfect people to capture the fantastic essence of the characters.

4.5 out of 5 stars for the book
3 out of 5 stars for the movie

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Review: “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur

A review by Amanda

Milk and Honey uses free form poetry to tell the author’s experiences of survival. The book delves into childhood trauma, abuse, heartache, and healing. Divided into four parts, each focusing on a different part of her life, the poems and prose are emotionally raw and brutally open, often uncomfortably so. Rupi Kaur balances her unique perspective of life with the relatability of shared experiences of destructive relationships, misplaced trust, and finding oneself in the aftermath of disaster.

Readers will be drawn in by the author’s vulnerability and honesty. Emotional discomfort with the descriptions of trauma is likely at various points, but readers will be rewarded for following through. The prose is accompanied by simplistic illustrations that perfectly capture the feelings being conveyed. The author does not hold back. Readers will experience her emotions, ranging from fear, rage, shame, and sorrow to her passion, joy, relief, and love.

These are not epic poems that will take up too much of a reader’s time. Some pages have only a few lines, while others may have a paragraph or two. Each should be read with care, however, as every word contributes equally to the story. The lack of capitalization and haphazard grammar may seem careless but actually sets the tone for the author’s frame of mind, and does not in any way detract from the stories being told.

This book does contain descriptions of violence and sexual abuse and may not be suitable for everyone. I would recommend Milk and Honey to readers sixteen and older. Although it tackles heavy topics, it also offers hope for those who are trying to heal and it is absolutely worth reading and discussing.

My rating: 5/5 stars

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Review: “Nephilim” by Jeb Kinnison

A review by Niraja

An electronic version of this book was supplied to the reviewer by the author in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Mt. Hermon, Utah, is the small Mormon town, that Sara is moving to. Jared is a local kid with a few addictions he is working to overcome. The two meet, become friends, and begin to fall in love. Meanwhile, near the abandoned Zion Mine that was once thought to contain treasures of lore, young people begin to disappear. Sara and Jared must fight for their lives and the fate of humanity, as dark angels plot and evil forces arise.

Nephilim, by Jeb Kinnison is a book chock full of US and Mormon history, religious ideology, and mythology. Surrounding this history is a story of two modern day teenagers who must fight evil with faith and love. Mr. Kinnison does a great job showing how the power of love and the power of faith can lend strength to overcome obstacles of daily life as well as the greater forces of evil. His writing is simple and straightforward, yet he is able to create clear pictures of people and places in the reader’s mind. Through Mr. Kinnison’s writing, one can also understand and empathize with his characters’ thoughts and feelings. Even so, there was a lack of depth to the characters; they felt a bit one dimensional. As a result, I was never totally drawn to any of the characters and never fully invested in their struggles. Their struggles, resulting in the final action scene was exciting however, and I appreciated the imagery and creativity of how Mr. Kinnison uses the characters’ connection to online games in their fight against the evil forces.

At the beginning of the story, I appreciated the tidbits of US history as well as the history of Mormons (and a bit of those of Jewish faith). I also appreciated the sections of the book where it describes Mormon religious scripture and how the faultings of men who wrote scripture can account for its clash with some findings of science science and yet the basic tenets of faith still apply. As the story continued however, full chapters of history and religious teachings slowed down and interrupted the story, for me personally. I felt myself wanting to skip and skim some of these chapters in order to get back to the story. As a result I may have missed if there were any significant bits that would have added to the sorry.

Overall, I think that the story had some interesting ideas and plot lines. However, I also feel that the story structure and character depth could have been improved or changed to allow the reader a greater connection and investment in the story.

Rating 2.5/5 stars

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Review: “The Trouble With Harry” by Katie MacAlister

The Trouble With Harry by Katie MacAlister

A review by Vanessa.

The new home of Harry Haversham, Lord Rosse, is full of secrets. It is only natural seeing as how Harry used to be a spy, working for the Home Office, serving King and country. Now Harry is a family man in search of something even more important: a wife. After the death of his first wife in childbirth, Harry is not looking for some young title-hungry girlish maiden to throw his life into chaos. He needs a good woman to help him rebuild his new home. But Harry will have to keep a few secrets from the new Lady Rosse. To avoid someone marrying him only for his title, he won’t tell her he is a lord until after they are married; and perhaps it would be best not to mention his five children. First Harry must find the perfect woman. Someone of strong character, good humor, of some age, who loves children, and isn’t to unpleasing to the eye… Someone just like Frederica Pelham. But of course, the lady has one whopping large secret of her own. And Harry’s spying days might not be as far behind him as he thought.

Frederica Pelham, Plum to her friends, isn’t quite sure she is doing the right thing when she answers the advertisement in the paper looking for a wife, but she hasn’t much choice. After being ruined by her first husband, whom it turns out couldn’t be her husband since the lying charlatan was already married, she has been cast out of polite society. Trying to care for herself and her orphaned niece has become impossible, and Harry seems like an answer to her prayers. He is handsome, and as it turns out, a lord who doesn’t seem to know anything about her troubled past. It doesn’t feel right not to share the secret but Plum has to do what she can to survive and to be a good mother to her suddenly five stepchildren! Besides, she has an even darker secret that could ruin them all if anyone were ever to find out. Plum wrote a book, but not just any book. She wrote the most popularly banned book that is all the rage with high society known as the Guide to Connubial Calisthenics, and if anyone ever found out the fallout would be more catastrophic than ever. She has to do everything she can to keep Harry from finding out about her past and her secrets, for her sake and the sake of her new family. But how long can secrets really last?

MacAlister’s ability to shape a plot line is always fantastic. It is not just about her ability to develop lovable and interesting characters, but the way she weaves together the experience of discovering her characters with the overarching romantic story is really wonderful. In this novel, she does just that with the intriguing backstory of Harry, and his experience as a spy and his very entertaining five children. Plum, as well, is a strong character whose own backstory is fascinating and makes for a complex twist in the romance set up between the two of them. I really like how MacAlister writes in the historical romance genre, setting up the obvious tropes of the time, while still allowing her lead female character to show uncommon strength, tenacity, and determination. Having read so many of McAlister’s modern paranormal romances, I remember being very eager to see how she fit her classic humor and writing style into the historical romance genre. This one was my first of her historical romances, and she did not disappoint. The romance is passionate, heat-filled, and satisfying, but there is so much more to the story the reader will discover through the mysterious twists and turns. A great read!

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “SINthetic (The New Lyons Sequence #1)” by J.T. Nicholas

cover of SINthetic (The New Lyons

A review by Amanda.

I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Detective Jason Campbell has been called to investigate a gruesome murder. A young woman has been found, murdered and disemboweled. She isn’t the first, and she isn’t human. Synthetics are human-like beings who are “born” in a lab and raised for the sole purpose of doing any number of less than desirable jobs. They are expensive, and have no rights under the law. Synthetics bleed, feel, and think but they are programmed to follow instructions and are incapable of hurting humans or other synthetics. They are property and nothing more. Detective Campbell should dismiss this case as destruction of property, at best, and move on. A mysterious source calls the detectives attention to the previous murders of other young, synthetic women, and Campbell knows that he cannot let it rest. His own history informs his decision to investigate these as serial murders, without the knowledge of his superiors, and with only a unique synthetic to offer limited assistance. His life is on the line, as he sniffs out corruption at the highest levels of society.

This book has the feel of an old detective noir film, but without the rampant sexism. Detective Campbell is an individual with layers and depth, which come to light at a steady pace. Supporting characters are few, but reasonably developed and well-rounded. Hopes for more depth and background on these characters in future books are high. Even so, the limited knowledge of these characters works with the story, as readers see it from Campbell’s perspective. He’s a bit of a loner and wouldn’t know too much about the people around him, so this makes sense. While this hampers the readers’ ability to connect to other characters, it does enhance the story to be so ensconced in the main character’s point of view.

SINthetic’s plot is primarily a wonderfully twisted mystery, with decent action sequences, and moral quandaries that will raise ire and make readers think and question what they know about humanity. The story moves quickly and makes for a fast read. There are descriptions of violence and sexual assault but they come across as detached, more like a police report, and details are scant.

Book one is available now, with the second due in March 2018.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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